The elevator dance is learned from experience. One person stands in the middle. A second person arrives and they quietly move to separate rear corners. A new person on the next stop positions in near the front corner. As more people arrive, they distribute fairly evenly. Two people get off and the group shifts to balance the positioning. People are often looking at their phones, the changing floor numbers or the floor. Nobody talks.
Sometimes I choose to break the silence and a light conversation occurs. When exiting, there is an exchange such as “Have a nice day.” It turns out that most people like some sort of light interaction in an elevator, but are hesitant to start.
Studies have found that seemingly superficial encounters among strangers can have significant emotional and physical health benefits for the people involved.
Shawn Horn, a psychologist in Spokane, Washington explains that we are social animals traveling in a small contained box we call an elevator. Small-talk makes a safer connection for most people.
Other shared experiences in buses, trains or waiting lines are opportunities for engagement. A smile, eye contact, and a comment can go far. It can start with thanking someone for holding the door of the elevator.
One elevator company’s etiquette guide says, “While exchanging quick pleasantries with other passengers is considered well within the range of good elevator etiquette, striking up awkward conversations with strangers or carrying on conversations with your friends in a loud manner is not OK.”
The average elevator ride lasts 30 seconds … about as long as a TV commercial. It’s enough time to show interest in another human being and share a smile. It is likely to improve your emotional health and that of the others in the box we call an elevator.